9 Americans Dead
Sadr’s Popularity Grows versus British in Basra
Guerrillas have used bombings to kill nine Americans since Monday. Four US GIs were killed at Ramadi on Tuesday. The bombings come in the wake of a major US/ Iraqi government operation against Sunnis in Tal Afar, amidst US threats to de-urbanize Ramadi and other Sunni Arab population centers.
A spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari criticized the British tank attack on an Iraqi jail in Basra where two British covert operations agents were being held. Jaafari represents the Shiite fundamentalist Da’wa Party, and has to play to his constituency, the Shiites of the south– who are furious at what they see as high-handed British interference in their region. On the other hand, al-Hayat said his office had denied that there was any crisis between Baghdad and London over the incident.
Some reports say that the jail was being run by a local Shiite religious militia, not the Basra provincial government. These reports seem not to take into account the fact that the Basra provincial government consists of 41 seats, 20 of them held by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and 21 by a coalition led by the fundamentalist Shiite Fadila (Virtue) Party. SCIRI has a paramilitary, the Badr Corps, which ran candidates in the Jan. 30 elections. So distinguishing between the Basra provincial government and the religious parties and their militias is like distinguishing the Bush administration’s stand on abortion from that of US evangelicals. The latter is responsible for the former.
The British seem to be facing increasing risks of danger from Shiite militias in Basra. In particular, the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr, a small group in Basra though more popular in East Baghdad, is suspected of setting roadside bombs to hit British patrols. The British attack on the jail, however, may well have played into Sadr’s hands, making him a heroic figure to nationalist Shiites in Basra who previously had taken little interest in his puritanical movement.
An internet posting that represented itself as coming from the organization supposedly led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, variously called Monotheism and Holy War and “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia”, said Tuesday that its war on the Shiites made an exception for those Shiite groups that opposed US and British occupation of Iraq. These included the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, Shaikh Jawad al-Khalisi, and Shaikh Mahmud al-Hassani.
Al-Hayat: The Sadr movement responded to the announcement, saying that it was an attempt to divide the Shiites.
Meanwhile, rumors circulated of severe tensions between Monotheism and Holy War and other guerrilla organizations in Iraq, including other Sunni religious ones, and suggesting that the latter had asked Zarqawi and his group to leave Iraq. The sources suggested that Tuesday’s backing off of total war on the Shiites came in response to these tensions. [Cole: I don’t find these reports of dissension over this issue among the guerrillas particularly credible. They are unsourced. And why would Baathists or Salafis be upset if “Zarqawi” (or whoever) targets the Da’wa Party or the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq?) Along these lines, the neo-Baathist “Army of Muhammad” released a statement Tuesday that Zarqawi’s group claimed credit for a lot of attacks on US troops and other targets that were actually carried out by the Army of Muhammad. [To any close observer, this charge seems self-evident.]
Riyadh al-Nuri, a spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr, said that Zarqawi’s exemption of the Sadrists from attack was an attempt to sow dissension in the ranks of the Shiites. Al-Nuri said that the Sadrists consider al-Qaeda and Zarqawi “their most diehard enemies” and that “were he to fall into the hands of the Sadrists they would tear him limb from limb.”